It's Tuesday, which means (most of the time) it's "If It's Tuesday, This Must be Belgium." This week I'm actually going back in time. A few years back I went to Bangkok, Thailand. It was my second trip to Asia but first to Bangkok (other visits included Hanoi, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Macau). It was an amazing experience for me, and I definitely plan to get back to Asia as soon as I can.
Bangkok is the capital of modern Thailand, and with over 9 million people in the city proper it is bigger than New York City. Thailand used to be called Siam, which some will know because of the book "Anna and the King of Siam" or the musical "The King and I." Needless to say that isn't an accurate reflection of the Siamese/Thai culture. Currently there is substantial political upheaval in the country, with the King (who is the longest serving Monarch in history; he became King in 1946) being quite ill right now and lawmakers just yesterday (December 15, 2008) choosing an opposition leader as Thailand's prime minister in an effort to end months of political chaos.
Bangkok sits on the Chao Phraya river, which travels about 230 miles before emptying into the Bay of Bangkok about 20 miles south of city center. As you can see, the area around the river (and for some distance) is quite dense.
Because of this density, the streets are often clogged with vehicles, bicycles and motor bikes. So the river is widely used for transportation. Boats like this one move commuters and tourists down the river. There are other long boats that hold only a few people or freight that noisily wind down the river delivering people and supplies. There is also a skytrain (overhead Metro system) to get you to different parts of the city.
While there it is important to experience some of the culture, which the local playhouses dutifully present to the tourists.
The predominant religion in Thailand is Buddhist. In fact, 95% of the people are Buddhists. Which means there are lots of Buddhist temples in Bangkok. The main one is the Grand Palace, which welcomes tourists and locals alike. It has many separate buildings and is magnificent to see.
I was particularly struck by the "guards" that stood in many places around the Grand Palace. They generally stood about 15-20 feet tall and had elaborated painted faces in different colors, like blue:
Needless to say, there are plenty of tourists from many different countries, such as Australia, China, Japan, Europe and the US. But since these are working temples, there are many who come here to pray.
Or light incense in memory of loved ones that have passed away
I also got outside the city to Khao Yai National Park, northeast of Bangkok toward the Cambodian and Laotian borders. Of course, a little ox cart run through the countryside is a nice start...
...followed by an elephant trek through the forest and streams.
The elephant trek was tiring, I have to say, and made my feet swell up tremendously. Plus I think a need a pedicure. What do you think?
I think that does it for my memory trip back to Bangkok. Next week is Christmas week, and unless I make a last minute trip somewhere else I'll be here in Brussels. So in next week's edition look for some of the local celebrations of Christmas.
Until then...thanks for coming by.